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Izzo keeps Spartans changing on the fly

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo's ability to adapt tactically to different opponents is one reason for MSU's success.

As Tom Izzo's record indicates, being able to adapt is crucial to success in the NCAA Tournament.

After last weekend's victory over second-seeded Virginia, Izzo is 20-4 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend, a mark unmatched in today's game.

That ability to prepare for multiple styles of play on short notice was on full display against the Cavaliers, and it's something the players are accustomed to doing.

"At this point in the season we're playing teams that we're not familiar with," junior guard Denzel Valentine said. "So if we got to do something that's uncharacteristic of us, then we just have to do it and we've got to trust in the coaches that they're being right. Obviously they were right because our defensive concepts, it worked."

Those defensive concepts changed quickly from the time Michigan State beat Georgia last Friday and took the court two days later against Virginia.

It stemmed from the fact Izzo believes this team, while good as a unit, doesn't have the individual defenders it did last season. Instead of helping with guards, the Spartans used their bigger players to help while the guard chased Virginia's off a series of screens.

"We don't have (Gary) Harris and (Keith) Appling and we don't have (Adreian) Payne," Izzo said Monday on WMGC. "Those guys were a shot blocker and two lock-down defenders I could put on anybody. I don't have one of those guys except maybe for (Branden) Dawson. But we have become a better team-defense team."

The result was one of Michigan State's best defensive performances and one of Virginia's worst. The Cavaliers shot 29.8 percent, their lowest this season, and made a season-low 17 baskets. They were 2-for-17 from 3-point range, and four times all year did they score less than 54.

"I think you've just got to give our coaching staff a great hand," senior Travis Trice said. "They're staying up until late hours of the night preparing us. ... They literally told us a totally different game plan from some of the things we've been taught for four years, and honestly for them to be able to display that to us and for us to pick it up, I just think it shows how great of coaches they are."

Michigan State's players took Monday off while the staff began preparing for all three teams in this weekend's East Regional in Syracuse, N.Y.

"We'll get our work done and see what can we implement in the next two days that all three teams can do and then we'll home in on Oklahoma," Izzo said on the "Tim Brando Show."

A touch of Magic

There's no secret Magic Johnson is one of Michigan State's biggest fans. The Hall of Famer also was around last weekend to offer advice to the players.

After the victory over Virginia, CBS cameras were in the Michigan State locker room when Johnson spoke to the players and singled out the seniors, Trice and Dawson, who combined for 38 of the team's 60 points.

"I just want to say, when you're in a battle, your seniors have got to step up," Johnson said. "Trice, you stepped up, baby; Dawson, you stepped up. And even when Valentine got in foul trouble, you didn't waver. You kept going.

"And I think Coach was right: the defense, helping each other, talking. It was beautiful. It was beautiful to watch. And even when they came back and made their run, you stuck to the game plan, you executed and you stuck together."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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